It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted here. There are things I could say about that. I could explain the absence. I could make excuses for the absence. I could apologize. I could be frustrated with myself. But my friend Jon Swanson at 300wordsaday.com would tell me to recognize that I needed the rest and the break and move on. So that is what I am going to do; I’m going to give myself grace. I may go back and hit the sections of the Sermon on the Mount that we have covered during the month of May, but for today I am going to pick up where we are at in the Avalon series, which is Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus’ teaching on prayer.
“When you pray…” That’s how it starts. There is an expectation in those words that prayer is happening. Unlike my blog posts, prayer isn’t something we should take a break from. In both Kodi’s and KPaul’s sermons the last two weeks, the emphasis has been on the relationship that is formed in prayer. When we are in a close relationship with someone, we spend time with them. And that is what prayer is. It is time spent with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, the whole Trinity. Isn’t that amazing? We have the privilege of communicating with the God of the universe! And not just at a specific time of day, but all day. At all hours. At any moment we can speak to God, or God can speak to us. We don’t need to perform some ritual, speak lots of words, or have some object; we simply need to pray.
Sometimes we have this idea that pastors are better at prayer than us. They do it on stage, so obviously. But here in Matthew 6, Jesus says that isn’t where or how we are supposed to pray. It’s not that praying corporately as a community is bad; that type of prayer is described often in Scripture. Rather, prayer isn’t supposed to be about showing off. It isn’t about a specific time of day where we pray publicly for all to see, but it is that we are praying. In Matthew 6 Jesus says to pray in your closet or your room. Prayer is about the relationship between you and God, not about others seeing how pious you are. And removing the audience allows space for that.
Think about it this way. If two people are married and the only time they communicate with each other is in front of other people, their relationship is not going to be very deep. Sharing hopes and dreams and struggles and weaknesses and arguments and whatever, isn’t done on a public stage. But those conversations happen behind closed doors. We are invited to have those types of conversations with God in our private rooms.
The other thing going into your room and shutting the door does is eliminate distractions. Distractions are everywhere, and in order to have good conversation, we need to focus on God, the person we are having a conversation with. Put your phone away. Eliminate the distractions by shutting your door or going for a walk. Turn your heart and thoughts toward God and talk to Him.
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, says these thoughts well.
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for fifteen minutes of fame! Do you think God sits in a box seat?Matthew 5:5-8 (The Message)
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.
Pray to God simply because He knows you and loves you. You don’t need to play a role with God because He would know that it is just that: a role. Be yourself. Talk to God. The more you pray, the more you will want to.
Let me encourage you to pray with a couple of thoughts. First, through Jesus we have been given access to God the Father. That’s something to start praising Him for right now. That is the basis of our faith and what we will praise Him for forever. So just begin there.
Secondly, sometimes we can be in a spot where words are hard, Paul gives us encouragement about that: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26 NIV11) Peterson says it like this in the Message:
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves….
What a blessing to know, that God understands us so well that we don’t even have to put words to the emotions but just turn to Him.
If you are struggling with where to start, the next couple of verses in Matthew 6 can give you an example. The Lord’s prayer isn’t something we just quote and move on as if that is all there is to prayer but it is an example of how to pray. It starts with a recognition of who God is (Father, God of the universe, holy). And because of who God is and who we are, we pray for what He wants (His will, His kingdom). There is space for requests (daily bread) and space for repentance (forgive us). God wants to help us in our struggles with temptation. He wants to deliver us, and there is space to ask for that too. Don’t just quote the words, but have a conversation with God.
Finally, don’t forget to listen to Him. Relationships aren’t formed during monologues. Stop. Spend time in silence. Read a verse or two and ask God to speak to you through His word. Don’t dump all your words and rush off into your day. But take a few minutes to listen to what He has to say to you.
Next week I hope to post again about the prayer book of the Bible, the Psalms. Those are always good places to go to put words to thoughts as well.
I pray that, as always, you may be blessed by God’s word today, and that you will devote some time to conversing with the God of the universe this weekend.